Singer-guitarist Thalia Zedek, formerly of the indie rock band Come, waited two decades before finally deciding to strike out on her own. Now, the only one surprised at her amazing solo album, Been Here and Gone, is Zedek herself.
"I just hadn't really thought about doing it before," says Zedek via phone from her Boston apartment. "When I was doing Come, I felt like that was my outlet, and it was loose enough to encompass anything that I wanted to do. I wasn't cultivating a stash of songs that I couldn't do with Come."
Zedek's work with the band defined her as a creative presence. After a 10-year career that included stints with some of the most respected indie rock bands of the '80s, including the all-female Dangerous Birds, the blues/ punk/electronica-laced Uzi, and the shredding Live Skull, Zedek hooked up with former Codeine guitarist Chris Brokaw to form Come in 1991. The group's first single for Sub Pop, "Car," garnered a lot of attention, and Eleven, its first full-length for Matador Records, was lauded as one of the best albums of 1992 and championed by the grunge luminaries of the time, including J Mascis, Bob Mould, and Kurt Cobain.
After four well-received albums and a host of rotating rhythm sections, Zedek and Brokaw, the two constants in the Come lineup, decided to take a hiatus following 1998's Gently, Down the Stream. They eventually decided to pull the plug on the group. But before the split became official, Zedek began considering solo work, even though she was less than thrilled about the prospect.
"I actually don't like playing solo with an acoustic guitar and singing," she says. "There was a piano player, Beth Heinberg, who had worked with Come before, and I really loved the way the songs sounded with piano. So I was doing shows with her. We were doing mostly covers at first, but people seemed to like it. They'd ask, 'Do you have any recordings of that stuff?', and I'd say, 'No, no,' and they'd say, 'You should record this way.' Finally, after a while, I started writing songs for that kind of format. I slowly started adding original stuff to these solo sets, and each time out I'd try to get a couple more new things in. After a while, it built up, and I thought, 'Wow, I could record an album out of this.' I'd wanted to record this way, but it seemed a waste to go into a studio and not do any of my own songs."
The quiet emotional power of Been Here and Gone stands in stark contrast to the feedback-drenched howl of Come and Zedek's similarly frenzied early work. Although some may consider the album a sonic statement that establishes her new role apart from Come, Zedek had actually completed work on Been Here and Gone before Come's official dissolution. In fact, the seeds for this new, gentler sound were actually sown on two short cabaret tours that Come launched between 1996's Near Life Experience and Gently, Down the Stream. On those tours, Zedek and Brokaw performed spartan versions of Come songs with just piano and strings. At that point, Zedek felt the stirrings of wanting to create something both powerful and subdued.
"I realized that I really liked this better than the rock stuff," says Zedek with a laugh. "Chris kind of missed the rock, but I didn't. When we got back, we said, 'Okay, we did that, now let's do a rock record,' and we ended up doing Gently, Down the Stream, which was pretty full-on, although it has some quiet stuff on it. Once I got a taste of that, I wanted more. On that tour, it was the first time I'd ever been able to hear my vocals during a show, and it was so much better. I didn't have to wear earplugs, which I really enjoyed, and it just felt more musical to me. I could hear myself singing better, because I could hear myself. That was a turning point."
While Come was still on official hiatus, Zedek assembled the resources for the recording of Been Here and Gone. Relying on the players who had accompanied her on her solo jaunts -- Brokaw, pianists Beth Heinberg and Mel Lederman, drummer Daniel Coughlin, violist David Michael Curry -- Zedek began fleshing out exactly how she wanted her new songs to be translated in the studio.
"A lot of these songs I had played during the solo shows with one other person, two at the most," she says. "I'd only done one show with the full band, so when we all got together a couple weeks before the recording to rehearse all together, I was pretty conscious that I didn't want it to be a heavy, thick sound. In terms of the arrangement, I wanted to maintain a lot of space and simplicity. So I was asking people to hold back -- no distortion boxes, no feedback. There was a conscious effort to not rock out, except in a couple of places."
The studio itself, an old church converted into a recording space, provided a somber atmosphere for Zedek's hushed and reverential songs. Getting the feeling right on the album was important to her, especially considering the theme of many of the songs, which speak of loss and its aftermath. It is, in many ways, the perfect breakup album, but Zedek is quick to point out it's an experiential catharsis that's not tied to a particular occurrence.
"It's definitely about change and distance," says Zedek. "It was event-inspired in that it's a summation of all the breakups I've gone through, rolled into one. It's kind of a romantically focused record. It was the stuff that was on my mind and what I felt like writing about at the time. But it wasn't necessarily inspired by one specific event."
Although Zedek is happy with the new chapter in her musical life, she leaves the door open for a return to a band configuration and has not completely turned her back on the scorching rock that has brought her where she is.
"I wouldn't rule it out," says Zedek. "I still really love rock and roll and garage music. And I've always liked playing with people; that's been really inspiring. But even if I did something like that, I would still keep doing this. I'd like to do more of this. It's been really, really fun."
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.